America's Children in Poverty: A New Look at Who's Poor Under the Supplemental Poverty Measure. Child Poverty Under the OPM and the SPM


As measured in 2010, 16.8 million children (or 22.5 percent of all children in the U.S.) are considered poor under the OPM (see Figure 1). This number falls to 13.6 million children (or 18.2 percent of all children) under the SPM. How do these two groups of poor children compare? Demographically, the two groups look similar (see Appendix Table A-4). In total, about 32 percent of poor children are White non-Hispanic under both the OPM and SPM measures (32.5 and 31.8 percent, respectively); roughly one-quarter of poor children are Black non-Hispanic (24.7 percent of OPM poor children and 22.2 percent of SPM poor children); and between 35.1 percent (for OPM) and 37.9 percent (for SPM) of poor children are Hispanic or Latino. In total, 45.3 percent of poor children live with two parents under the OPM, as do 48.3 percent under the SPM. Just under half of OPM poor children (47.1 percent) and SPM poor children (45.4 percent) live with a single parent. Between 6.3 and 7.6 percent of poor children live with no parent under the two measures.

Regional differences are somewhat more pronounced, especially in the Pacific region. This is largely due to the geographic adjustment the SPM includes to account for the cost of basic necessities. While only 16.8 percent of OPM poor children live in the Pacific region of the country, fully 22.3 percent of the SPM poor children live in this region. Child poverty tends to fall in most areas under the SPM. But the extent of this drop is much more dramatic in non-Pacific states (approximately 5 percentage points) than it is in Pacific states (just over 1 percentage point). This differential is largely driven by California, where child poverty actually increases under the SPM. The child poverty rate in California increases from nearly 24 percent under the OPM in 2010 to just over 27 percent under the SPM (not shown here).

The data tables in the Appendix provide additional comparative statistics for the overall groups of OPM- and SPM-poor children. But because the “core poor,” the group that is poor no matter what measure is used, forms the vast majority of each group, it is more useful to look at three groups of children: the core poor, the group lifted out of poverty under the SPM, and the group thrown into poverty under the SPM. The remainder of this brief focuses on these three mutually exclusive groups.

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